Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 22 September 2019

Steve Smith's absence and Jofra Archer's stamina: Talking points ahead of third Ashes Test

Australia hold a 1-0 lead over England as the five-match series continues at Headingley

Steve Smith, centre, will miss the third Ashes Test at Headingley after suffering concussion at Lord's. Press Association
Steve Smith, centre, will miss the third Ashes Test at Headingley after suffering concussion at Lord's. Press Association

The 2005 Ashes, when Australia finally relinquished their grip on the urn after the best part of two decades of domination, was not short of seminal moments.

One that is often spoken about by Michael Vaughan, England’s winning captain back then, was the moment Australia celebrated forcing a draw in the Old Trafford Test.

He pointed to the away dressing room, and told his players to consider the magnitude of that: a team that was well used to crushing all comers reduced to cheering a half-point.

Joe Root might have been minded to do the same with his own cohort at Lord’s last week.

Yes, his England team remain one-down with three Tests to play. But the drama of the match at the Home of Cricket will surely have emboldened the hosts as they reassemble at Headingley on Thursday.

Smith felled

The boos that accompanied Steve Smith’s return to the crease after his sickening blow from Jofra Archer in the second Test seemed callous in the extreme. Even Scott Morrison, the Australian prime minister, commented, saying the Lord’s crowd had been a “total foul”.

It takes some work putting a positive slant on it. But consider this alternative fact: maybe they were all voicing their displeasure on medical grounds at the fact he had been allowed to restart his innings.

Which would have been fair. Given what we know about concussion and second-impact syndrome, his return, while clearly brave, was incredibly dangerous.

The fact he has been sat out for this Test at Headingley only seems correct.

Love for Labuschagne

Marnus Labuschagne became the first ever concussion substitute in Test cricket. Press Association 
Marnus Labuschagne became the first ever concussion substitute in Test cricket. Press Association 

Imagine having to be deemed a “like for like” replacement for Smith. It is basically impossible, short of time travelling to recruit peak Don Bradman.

And yet Marnus Labuschagne wore those sizable boots perfectly capably when introduced as Test cricket’s first concussion substitute on Sunday.

Australia’s super sub will have a role to play beyond the plucky 59 he made to save the Lord’s Test.

The dynamic of the series certainly altered dramatically when Australia’s immovable object was, well, removed by Archer.

But Labuschagne’s courageous cameo went to show that Australia need not fret while Smith is out.

Archer’s stamina

Jofra Archer enjoyed an impressive and explosive Test debut. Press Association 
Jofra Archer enjoyed an impressive and explosive Test debut. Press Association 

To think Archer was sat out of the first Test as there were question marks over his fitness. Lord’s made a joke of that.

One of the many wonders of his sensational debut Test was the fact he maintained such high velocity bowling over such a long duration.

His spellbinding spell on the Saturday afternoon, which peaked with a delivery of 96.1mph, came deep into a shift of 29 overs in the innings. That was 10 more than his senior seam-bowling colleague Chris Woakes.

When England were pushing for the win on the final day, Archer bowled an unbroken spell of eight overs.

No wonder he tweeted a gif of an old man struggling to get to his feet, saying that would be him getting out of bed the next day.

Such workloads are rare for very fast bowlers, and – accepted wisdom suggests – unsustainable.

Root will not be able to push him quite so hard, so soon after, at Headingley. But it already seems apparent that Archer’s inputs could be the winning and losing of the Ashes.

England’s batting ills

Ben Stokes scored his first Test century in two years at Lord's. Press Association 
Ben Stokes scored his first Test century in two years at Lord's. Press Association 

Archer and the other England bowlers can only do so much. Their batsmen need to provide a platform if the home side are to have a chance to regain the urn.

There are signs it might happen. Ben Stokes made his first Test century in two years at Lord’s. Jonny Bairstow played like the World Cup rust had finally been shaken off, while Jos Buttler at least had a little optimism to cling to with how he battled in the second innings last weekend.

England’s selectors have stuck with the same personnel for Headingley, although a tweak in the batting order might be under consideration.

Run-shy Jason Roy could benefit with a swap with Joe Denly, the No 4, with Trevor Bayliss, the England coach, saying “personally I think he probably is suited to the middle order” of England’s ODI opener.

Updated: August 21, 2019 03:10 PM

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